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“Mum’s Motto is ‘Safety in Numbers’, Mine is ‘Never Trust a Crowd'”

Writing by Ber Carroll

My mum was a big believer in the proverb that there is safety in numbers. Coming from a small family herself, she was determined to create a bigger unit, starting with the six children she gave birth to in fairly quick succession. ‘Never be alone’ was her motto, and I can testify that there wasn’t a single corner of our house where you could be alone. With a convergence of neighbours, friends and the cousins from next door (there were six of them, too), finding somewhere to sit in our house was a matter of timing and skill.

Outside of home, Mum liked us to stay together, too. Whenever my older sister was going anywhere, I was often dispatched to keep her company (even when she had other friends along). I was shy back then (which people find hard to believe today) and a bit of a goody-two-shoes (confession: I am still a goody-two-shoes). Maybe Mum thought I needed to get out more? Or maybe she thought I’d be a good influence and keep Catherine out of trouble? It was annoying for my sister having me tagging along, but the situation became ludicrous when she turned eighteen and started to go clubbing.

Mum remained staunch: Catherine could only go to clubs if I was with her (even though I was only fifteen!). This was back in the old days when nobody was asked for ID and security guards didn’t bat an eyelid at seeing young ones in the queues. ‘In you go, love, have a great night,’ they’d say in a fatherly tone.

Those nightclubs opened my eyes. And stung my eyes: half the time I couldn’t even find Catherine through the haze of cigarette smoke. I was propositioned by men in their twenties, dabbled in underage drinking, and on one memorable night, I had to hide in the toilets when there was a police raid on the club. The venues were overcrowded and sometimes spread across multiple floors and buildings: Catherine and I often lost each other until the lights came on at the end of the night. As a result, you could say that I learned from a fairly young age that there isn’t necessarily safety in numbers. I wasn’t keeping Catherine safe, and she wasn’t keeping me safe, and both of us were perfectly fine with that … as long as Mum didn’t find out.

Fast forward thirty-odd years, to the year 2019, and I was living on the other side of the world with two teenage kids of my own. Helicopter parenting was on trend, underage clubbing almost unheard of, and my kids, at seventeen and fourteen, were smart but not street smart, adventurous while at the same time being woefully inexperienced.

When U2 announced an Australian tour, the kids were just as excited as my husband and me (because along with the helicopter parenting, we’d also foisted our taste in music on them. Sunday, Bloody Sunday, they’d cheerfully sing from the backseat of the car. When my daughter was very young, she actually believed that her father and Bono were one and the same. “That’s Dad,” she’d say proudly upon hearing a U2 song on the radio).

And so, on the nominated day and time for the ticket sales, I was poised over my keyboard, waiting with tens of thousands of others to get into the ticketing system, my heart thumping with adrenaline. After three minutes I was IN, and a digital clock was counting down the time I had to complete the transaction. The problem was, I couldn’t find four seats together: the concert was already practically sold out. In fact, the only remaining seats were platinum ones and there was no way I was paying that amount of money for the kids, who had only been U2 fans since they were newborns. A handful of general admission tickets were also available, and I dithered as I contemplated the horrors of the mosh pit. The clock ticked down. My seventeen-year-old was urging me to get field tickets for him and his sister – we’re old enough, he claimed – my brain was saying no, this is meant to be a family night out, and you might be old enough, but your sister isn’t. If I didn’t act fast, though, there would be no tickets for anyone in the family. I selected two field tickets and two of the platinum seats, and I clicked BUY with a rush of euphoria and trepidation.

On the night of the concert, my trepidation only intensified: the crowds were overwhelming. I feared losing someone even as we were carried to the stadium, not to mention once the kids were in the mosh pit. My fourteen-year-old had a terrible sense of direction and wasn’t familiar with the city. My seventeen-year-old was raring to go, full of confidence but lacking common sense. What if he lost his sister? What if either of them lost their phones or were scammed in some way? My mother so strongly believed that there is safety in numbers, but the proverb obviously applies to small numbers and groups. Those nightclubs weren’t safe, and fifty thousand fans converging on Allianz Stadium wasn’t safe either: quite the opposite. Amid all the people and chaos, anything could happen, and nobody would probably even notice.

My husband and I arranged a meeting spot outside the stadium, in case the kids got separated and were unable to phone or text. I’m happy to report that at the end of the night, we all turned up at the nominated meeting spot – and we all had an amazing night.

We’ve been to other concerts in the years since then, concerts where I committed to the mosh pit, but the kids ditched us anyway, pushing further up the field, and I tried to enjoy myself without obsessing about their phones or wallets being stolen, or imagining them falling victim to needle spiking, crowd crushes or drug dealers. I’ve experienced the same fear on leaving stadiums after big football games, when it’s dark, easy to get disoriented or become separated from who you are with.

Both victims and perpetrators can disappear in the blink of an eye, and CCTV is next to useless when there are thousands of people pushing and moving, and squashed up against each other. Compounding the problem is our heavy reliance on mobile phones, assuming that we can call someone if we lose them, assuming that we can use tracking apps to pinpoint their precise location, and assuming that our phones are not going to be lost or stolen or dead when we need them the most.

My sister and I look back on those early nightclub experiences with a mixture of fondness and horror. We didn’t have mobile phones to track each other down at the end of the night, but we always, somehow, arrived home together looking the picture of innocence and unity. ‘What Mum doesn’t know won’t worry her,’ was our motto at the time.

Of course, now the shoe is on the other foot, and we know all too well that parents will always worry, and it’s only natural for them to seek reassurance in whatever form they can get: be it tracking apps, or straight-up prayers, or even an old proverb or two.

While Mum’s motto is still Safety in Numbers, mine is, Never Trust a Crowd.

B.M Carroll’s latest book One of us is Missing is out now with Affirm Press.


Ber Carroll

Ber Carroll is the author of twelve novels. Her last five novels have been written under B.M. Carroll to reflect that her writing has become darker and more twisted (which is also a reflection of her state of mind!). You Had It Coming was shortlisted for the 2022 Ned Kelly Award for Best Crime Fiction and the 2022 Davitt Award for Best Adult Novel.

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